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Doing nothing, or not doing anything, becomes a resounding refrain in the film. The straying wife and her bloated new soul mate claim to have actually done nothing (“This is not about whoopsy-doopsy”). The arrested brother declares that he too has done nothing. But doing nothing can have more than one meaning, “committing no transgression” but also “attaining no goal,” a defense on the one hand and a recrimination on the other. “Doing nothing,” the head of the Physics Department counsels the protagonist, “is not bad.” Yet doing nothing isn’t doing good, either. Wouldn’t doing good be better? Shouldn’t we be doing something? Such questions are not just to be taken away from the film but taken back into it for a second viewing. Keep an ear cocked.

Joel and Ethan Coen have long and lately devoted themselves to the vast panoply of human stupidity. Stretching out now, stretching back to Barton Fink, they have chosen to reassure us, although “reassure” doesn’t sound quite right, that an intelligent, educated, well-meaning, and would-be serious man, a man so earnest as to strain his voice continually at the upper reaches of its range, is no less at a loss. The Coens are often taken by their detractors to be nothing more than cold-hearted wisenheimers, and in fairness they often content themselves to pretend to be cold-hearted wisenheimers. But the pretense looks to me to be a form of modesty. Let the film speak for itself, and believe the pretense at your poverty. These are serious men.

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Alias_Jabez_Goethe Oct. 14, 2009 @ 5:48 p.m.

And indeed, most moviegoers have an impoverished view of what they pay 8 or 10 dollars for in the theaters, let alone video. On opening weekend (which netted them a not-so-funny $251 Thousand dollars), I suffered through three meatheads with cell phones going off, in addition to Living Room Style sqaucking throughout. Most offensive were three teen guys ("Religion is really f--ked" one loudly proclaimed during the Goy's Teeth sequence). As for this being a vital religious movie (in contrast to a mere Religion Movie: The Nativity Story, Passion of Mad Mel, so forth), I couldn't agree more. How does it compare for Duncan Shepherd, I wonder, from recent non-comedies like Cold Heaven, Under the Sun of Satan, Resurrection..? The comedy (or violence) didn't hurt the deep feeling and respect for life contained in Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother... -but will that not automatically disqualify it from much consideration? I notice there isn't much respect for this movie so far. More misunderstandings per a review than I've ever read for a Coen movie.

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Alias_Jabez_Goethe Oct. 14, 2009 @ 5:48 p.m.

Part II... And for it being " a commercial throwaway, a commercial throat-cut" (Note: it's up to $923 Thousand total US gross so far, as of yesterday!; Historical note: The Hudsucker Proxy only ever made 2.8 Million in theaters, where as Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink made a shade over 11 Million combined!), that's something of an overstatement. Even if it is, they more than earned it with the (suprisingly) big success of their last one.

I was reading Mr. Shepherd's first (March 7, 1996) review of Fargo again, and right off the bat he breaths relief that The Boys scaled back production (Fargo was a return to a more simple, fluid approach to filmmaking, like their first few). Already he was worring about them becoming too much a burden on the Hollywood financiers! I can't help but be a little disappointed Mr. Shepherd doesn't do a little overview of the Coen's career this past decade, and how A Serious Man. Still, I have the tradional Re-Review (and maybe, since he likes this as much as their 90's work - a Third Review?) to hope for. I usually got more from the second reviews he did for the likes of Barton Fink, Fargo, et alia. The more Mr. Shepherd likes a Coen brothers' movie, the more conservative his first review tends to be. That's especially true of the Fargo review. I love the fact he has the personal connection to Minneapolis, and varifying the Coen's are being true to their memories growing up their, at roughly the same time as Shepherd. This enriches his reviews of their more "personal" movies. Here's an idea: would it be something Duncan Shepherd would be interested in, to Re-review A Serious Man, comparing it to their Gates of Eden stories rather than just their past movies. I see more of a connection to the "autobiographical" stories in that collection than to anything else they've done. And I don't mean just the part about how the sister spent most of her time washing her hair. Maybe some day they can make a short film based directly on 'The Boys'. They already touched on that in the diner scene in Intolerable Cruelty. It would be great to see it with two young kids and a father and waitress, instead of Clooney, Adelstein, and (I forgot the name of the waitress in that underappreciated, "unoriginal" Coen movie)....

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Alias_Jabez_Goethe Oct. 14, 2009 @ 6:17 p.m.

I was reading another old review of Shepherd's :Mafioso (the SD Reader should make these older full column reviews available by online archive, such as the Chicago Reader does with their reviewers of lessor import), where there's a big -and hugely enjoyable- preamble talking about his history with the director's films, and the star's (Norma Bengell's) work, and his infatuation with her in the 60's-70's. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHCbEI... Here's a Youtube clip of Noite Vazia (with Bengell, Odete Lara), that rare Cinema Novo classic by Walter Hugo Khouri, for those curious. I can't find it's availability listed anywhere, but I sense there must be a Portuguese-only DVD available, somewhere (given par of it's on Youtube!). I'll keeping looking for this erotic Antonioni-esque favorite of Shepherd's and Robbe-Grillet's.

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Josh Board Oct. 16, 2009 @ 12:45 a.m.

Mafioso was an interesting film.

A Serious Man has it's moments. The characters are interesting. But it was very disappointing.

It was better than the horrible Coen Bro films The Man Who Wasn't There or Intolerable Cruelty. A comedy that wasn't funny, just silly.

Duncan is correct, the 3 different rabbis, none of which help him with their 3 different stories...great fun (and yeah, that was Michael Lerner, at least according to the person with me). It was great seeing Richard Kind and Adam Arkin.

The opening was perhaps the worst opening in a movie I've seen in probably a decade.

And by the end of the picture, I just wondered why this wasn't the classic film it really could've been.

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joeb Nov. 18, 2009 @ 11:13 a.m.

This one put me in mind of P.T. Anderson -- whatever happened to him? -- specifically his "Magnolia."

As in "A Serious Man," the P.T.A. film begins with a story, a fable almost, which informs what is to come. Further similarities -- the biblical references, both from the same book of the Bible -- Exodus. In "Magnolia," the reference is to Exodus 8:2, the Plague of Frogs, whereas in "A Serious Man," the Exodus reference comes at the very end.

The final shot of "A Serious Man" is the approaching tornado, which may be understood as the vengeful God coming to exact his penalty for Gopnik's moral lapse (and his son's blasphemy of his Bar Mitzvah). The tornado is a dark, twisting column of smoke. In Exodus, God guides the Israelites to the promised land by manifesting as a pillar of smoke in the day (and a pillar of fire at night).

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Josh Board Nov. 18, 2009 @ 3:30 p.m.

You ask what happened to PT Anderson. Well, he got some Oscar nominations a few years back for THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

joeb...those all add interesting points to the film, for sure. But just as O Brother mirrored another story (Homer) and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (bible), at the end of the day, that stuff doesn't matter to me. What matters is if it was a good film WITHOUT the viewer knowing those things.

Someone could tell me that a horrible Adam Sandler movie (by the way, what did you think of him in the PT Anderson film Punch Drunk Love?)...anyway, a Sandler comedy that doesn't work, could be War and Peace done as a comedy, for the big screen. Who cares? Give us a good movie.

(On a side note, does anyone else get annoyed by "book snobs" that always want to tell you "the book was better"?)

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